Great Designs Australia: A hidden earthen house blends into the landscape “like a doona”

A new hidden earth house integrated into the landscape “like a doona” has serious claims to be the most aesthetically pleasing bathroom in the country.

If you were to arrive in Goobragandra at the foot of the Snowy Mountains in New South Wales, you’d be greeted by rolling hills and a perennial stream that hasn’t been touched by time.

In the lush natural surroundings a few hours from Canberra, there is little to suggest the town is inhabited, so when Trevor and Jeanette Robinson bought land overlooking the river, they intended to keep it that way.

Instead of building a comfortably large house at the highest point, they opted for a mud house that blended into the landscape at the lowest point.

“Why be ostentatious and have this big block?” asks Trevor, referring to a modern monolith that would look atypical in the country town.

As well as blending into the landscape, the other requirement for the house was floor-to-ceiling glass doors that provide views from all aspects of the main living areas and bedrooms and “most importantly”, the hall. bathroom that offers stunning views of the mountainside.

Trevor, who was paralyzed when he was hit by a car on his motorbike a few years ago, didn’t let the accident be his loss. Instead, fueled by his innate need to live a full life (he loves nothing more than to fly his ultralight plane over the Snowy Mountains), he also managed the construction project.

Foxtel’s Grand Designs followed the construction of Trevor and Jeanette’s underground home on the 15-acre block, which towered over their 1.5-mile river frontage.


With a tight budget of $600,000 and an optimistic timeline of 10 months, construction was far from smooth.

“If we built a standard house here, it wouldn’t be so great,” says Jeanette. Instead, building an earth house required the removal of 500 tons of earth, before the hydronics could be laid under a concrete slab. It is estimated that a considerable amount of $300,000 of the budget was used to cover steel, concrete and hydronic bills alone. And unlike new homes built above ground, waterproofing is one of the biggest and most expensive jobs on the job site.

Building an earth house, which is essentially an underground shelter with earth against the walls, is a complicated engineering feat, says renowned architect and host of Grand Designs Peter Maddison, but the benefits are countless.

“Trevor and Jeanette’s house is on the snowbelt and away from it all. Trevor is an absolute go-getter and he wanted another adventure in his life – he didn’t just want to sit in his house in Canberra with the heat rising,” says Peter. “This house is suitable for extreme temperatures because it is underground and mother nature’s earth is constant. It’s actually like a doona. It will never reach zero degrees or 40 degrees.

The low impact building is on the side of a hill and an excessive amount of concrete has entered the building so that it does not slide down the hill. The house is then covered with 100 tons of earth and covered with grass, so it is impossible to see the address by car.

It’s definitely not the easiest way to build, plus Trevor had been hospitalized mid-build with an urgent medical issue that required back surgery.

Looking back, Peter says that “it would have been a difficult project for an able-bodied person to undertake”.

Off-the-grid, wheelchair accessible and eco-friendly are all winning tickets, but ultimately the new home was designed to give Trevor his independence back.

“When Trevor needs to lie down, as he has to spend several hours a day in this position, he now has a bedroom with a view.

“His goal was to have a toilet with a view and he can watch the river flow from the toilet.”

There are extra wide doors throughout and the kitchen benches have overhead clearance that allows Trevor to fit in with his wheelchair and cook.

“This whole house design is all about supporting Trevor and making sure he’s okay. Jeanette rocks his and isn’t demanding at all and I can’t think of a design aesthetic that’s his – she has defined herself in how she can support him,” says Peter.

“It’s not an architectural manifesto, it’s a beautiful, pragmatic house and it’s about humanity.

Its design is subtle and the facade moves with the contours of the terrain, it’s not about flexing your muscles and saying “I’m here”. He is wise and will stand the test of time. And that’s commendable.


The earthen shelter of Antiparos in Greece is perfectly positioned in a natural furrow where two slopes meet. Two long stone walls connect the hills with the house nestled in space.

This hobbit house in Slovenia is every bit as magical as a Middle-earth abode. Located in an ancient settlement that dates back over 5000 years.

At Keldur in Iceland you will find the oldest turf buildings still standing. In the 12th century, Keldur was home to the Oddi clan. The most powerful clan in the region.

Estate Lättenstrasse is a residential area consisting of nine earthen houses in Switzerland. The houses are grouped around a small artificial lake with a hidden entrance.

Grand Designs Australia is now streaming on Foxtel.

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